Summer TV Club: Star Trek "The Trouble with Tribbles"

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This week Pete has taken to the high seas for some old-fashioned piracy, so we have once again accosted John Seaborn Gray to watch some boob tube with us. Luckily for him, Jef and I have chosen literally one of the greatest episodes of television of all time, Star Trek's "The Trouble with Tribbles."

The episode opens with a distress call to the Star Fleet ship Enterprise from Deep Space Station K7. The Enterprise is asked to to guard a consignment of grain bound for Sherman's Planet that has a peculiar name that I cannot repeat here, just because I don't have any idea of how to spell it. Some members of the crew are given leave to K7, Lt. Uhura being one of them as she wants to do some shopping. She meets a trader, Cyrano Jones, who sells her a fur ball called a Tribble that is alive and purrs. Before you can say, "Did Spock just make a joke?" the tribbles have multiplied and then multiplied again. They are everywhere and they are pretty nasty.

ABBY: This whole entire episode comes down to one stereotypical gender-related notion: Women be shopping, amiright, amiright?

JOHN: "And I'm going to help her, Keptin." Before this episode, I never realized how firmly Uhura had Chekov in the Friend Zone.

JEF: I suppose we should be thankful that Chekov wasn't loaded down with handbags and hat boxes.

ABBY: This episode actually has three interwoven plots going on, the protection of the grain, the issue with the Klingons and then the tribbles. In a way, the grain is almost a McGuffin for the tribbles to take over the plot. Thoughts?

JOHN: It's a little too clearly defined for proper McGuffinhood, but it is hard to imagine it being crucial to any other plot.

JEF: I actually thought it was quite clever, myself. I identified with Kirk, who thought the whole thing wasn't worthy of his attention. Yet without it, you're talking a major incident with thousands of lives lost. I declare no McGuffin. It was secretly hella important all along.

ABBY: Tribbles are cool with humans and Vulcans but hate Klingons. Are they racist? Sometimes I think my dog is based on the people she barks at.

JOHN: I think everyone in the original Star Trek universe was a little racist. Don't get me wrong, it was extremely progressive for its time, but when they find out the Federation officer's assistant/remora is a Klingon, they react like old-school Hollywood producers finding out a beloved actor is mulatto. Too bad the Klingons didn't have their crazy forehead shit yet; this wouldn't have been an issue.

JEF: All early sci fi is slightly and inherently racist. It's just easier to project upon actual alien races because they don't have focus groups.

ABBY: As the episode progresses, the tribbles become much more of a nuisance, but in the first 30 minutes or so, everyone seems to think it's okay that these weird fur balls are hanging around, multiplying like rabbits. Not one person, aside from Kirk, is annoyed with the tribbles. This was the only thing I didn't believe about this episode, everything else, totally buyable.

JOHN: If the writers had sold the tribbles' purr as more of an opiate, I'd have bought into this aspect more. You know, ensigns sitting around listening to Velvet Underground while chasing the tribble dragon, pawning their personal items and eventually resorting to crime just for some sweet, sweet trill.

JEF: Man, that's a way better plotline.

ABBY: Kirk spends this whole episode in his leisure/hanging-out uniform. What's up with that?

JOHN: It's sexy as fuck, that's what's up with that.

JEF: I did think it was odd... maybe a subtle nod to how silly he thought the mission was. You get the impression he only brought Spock down because he knew without him he would definitely have started cussing out the bureaucrats and Klingons.

ABBY: I thought the same thing, Jef. Okay, are Klingons really all that bad? Worf seemed like a good guy.

JOHN: I think around Next Generation, we're meant to think of them as a proud warrior race who have only recently become nonviolent enough to interact with the rest of the universe. It's intended to be more a matter of species maturity rather than inferiority. But in the original series, yeah, they're pretty much just assholes.

JEF: Dark-skinned, conniving assholes. I always thought they were going for a swarthy Mideast flavor of racism there.

ABBY: From Wikipedia:

"The Trouble with Tribbles" was first broadcast in the United States on December 29, 1967 on NBC.The initial fan reaction was undecided, but the episode connected better with the mass market.This effect was later explained in 2012 when Jordon Hoffman on StarTrek.com described the "The Trouble with Tribbles" as "quite possibly, the first episode of Star Trek you ever saw". It entered popular culture and remained well known to the public outside of the Star Trek community.

I have to agree. It's not the first episode I had seen of

Star Trek

, but it stands out the most. Why do you think that is? Humor?

JOHN: It would have to be the humor; there wasn't much else in the episode, unless you count the bar brawl as an action sequence. Also, with Stanley Adams's Cyrano Jones, this episode may contain both the worst character name and performance in the history of the show. A simpering ham, utterly unlikable, but definitely memorable.

JEF: I have to admit that this is the first episode of the original Star Trek I've seen in its entirety and I was fairly impressed. Bear in mind I've been watching a lot of early Doctor Who lately from around the same time, and the budget by comparison is really quite impressive. The sets are good, the acting is far better than people ever give it credit for, and they actually do put out some real social messages. I think you can take a lot from this episode about the consequences of invasive species and the foolishness of discounting the need for safe food supplies. I really liked it.

ABBY: Would you own a tribble if you knew it would have at most five tribbles in its lifetime?

JOHN: I have briefly owned several tribbles. My cats cough them up from time to time.

JEF: I just feed what my wife tells me to feed.

ABBY: Do you think tribbles are related to mogwai? Me, too.

JOHN: In a deleted scene, Scotty reveals that he beamed the tribbles aboard the Klingon ship with instructions to feed them at 12:01 a.m. Klingon Standard Time. He holds a grudge, that Scotty.

JEF: Mogwai are aliens, as is explained in the George Gipe novelization of the first film. While there are similarities, such as the asexual mass reproduction, mogwai are inherently hostile, manipulative creatures save the rare one in a thousand that is kind (Also immortal). It's possible that tribbles represent an earlier biological ancestor of mogwai, or perhaps a degenerated descendant. Mogwai are already at the tool-using phase of evolution by our time, and Star Trek takes place in the future. Who knows, maybe.

Next week Jef has done us the honor of choosing the crime-solving sister of many a generation, Nancy Drew, Season 1, Episode 4, "Asylum." You can watch the mystery with us on Netflix streaming and chime in about how little we discuss the episode.

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